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"The Torch" -- Story for the "Phoenix Moment" Challenge

"The Torch" -- Story for the "Phoenix Moment" Challenge

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stmargarets, whose hobby seems to be telling me things I can't get out of my head, suggested that I enter the "Phoenix Moment" Challenge that is being run on The Sugar Quill, Fiction Alley, and the Leaky Cauldron.  Today the pressure became unbearable and I wrote the thing.  I'll probably submit it, after giving bandcandya chance to tell me what I've done wrong.

Here's the wording of the Challenge:

"A Phoenix Moment:
A phoenix moment is a moment in the Harry Potter series, real or imagined, when someone displays one or more traditional traits of the phoenix, whether transformation, loyalty, heroism or something else. The moment and the interpretation are up to you, as is your medium. Fiction, art and essays are all welcome and will be judged in separate divisions."

And here's the story.  Size limit was 1,500 words.


The Torch
On her twentieth birthday, Hermione Granger went to Hogwarts to say goodbye.
She Apparated into the empty streets of Hogsmeade and trudged up the path to the silent castle. The school’s defenses apparently still recognized her as a student and let her in with no fuss.
Grass was growing tall in the courtyards; Argus Filch still lived there, but his heart wasn’t in grounds maintenance these days.  But the place was still tidy. The House Elves continued to work. There were more ghosts than before, but that was to be expected. Some of them were people she recognized, but it wasn’t clear whether they recognized her.
She entered Gryffindor Tower; the portrait of the fat lady didn’t bother asking her for a password. Inside it was silent.
The last witch in Britain sat down in the common room to brood.
Hermione had identified the spell, but it was Harry who insisted that they use it, and that Hermione herself perform the anchor charm. Hermione had pleaded, saying that DeCamp’s Reflective Curse always obliterated not only the target but also the initiator. He’d be killed, she cried, and probably Ron would too.
He’d said, “This is how we have to do it. The Horcruxes may be gone, but there’s no other way of trapping and destroying a wizard as powerful as Voldemort. The Reflective Curse is all we’ve got. You have to be the anchor; you’re the only one with the skill to handle it.”
So she had given in, kissing Ron on the lips and hugging Harry for dear life, begging them to take whatever precautions they could. Then she’d stepped back, got control of herself and cast the anchor charm for the Reflective Curse.
And it had worked. Voldemort had vanished in a flash of pale blue light. And so had Harry; and so had Ron. Hermione had sat upon the ground and wept, swearing that she would tell the whole wizarding world of her best friends’ sacrifice.
But there was no one to tell.
DeCamp’s Reflective Curse seeks out and obliterates humans with magical abilities. It is a wizard-killer. The mandatory caster of the anchor charm is safe because of the inertial vectors of the spell, but all other witches and wizards within its range wink out of existence. Throughout the history of its use, there had never been more than two or three victims. But no one had ever tried to use this spell with two wizards as powerful as Harry and Voldemort; no one had considered that the range of the charm might increase with the magical potential of the initiator and the target. In retrospect, she calculated that the radius must increase as an exponential function of their combined power level.
There were no wizards left in Britain. Not a wizard, not a witch, not a magical child. The Weasleys were gone. Hogwarts was empty. Everyone she’d met since the age of eleven had vanished without a trace. The Muggles had noticed the mass disappearances, but never connected them with magic; Hermione had been in no state of mind to explain it.
They had destroyed Voldemort – and committed the genocide of the wizarding world.
Her parents had taken her back into their house and cared for her. For the first few months she found it cruel even to get out of bed in the morning, and she’d spent her time thinking up ever more creative and pointless ways of punishing herself. She knew that no amount of research would have uncovered the disastrous exponential impact of the spell, but she found it hard not to think of herself as a murderer. She alternated between bone-cold grief and nauseating guilt.
Eventually she’d begun performing the occasional spell to help around the house (there was no one to enforce the Statute of Secrecy now), and tried to think of what to do with her life. Mum and Dad tried to talk her into reading Dentistry at university, or reading History and becoming a professor. It seemed as good a plan as any other. But first, she’d decided, she had to say goodbye to her old life.
Well, there was no point spending the whole day in the common room. Hermione visited all her old haunts: the Transfiguration classroom, the Great Hall, the Astronomy Tower, and of course her beloved Library. She thought about how she could spend years just drinking in the contents of those books. But what would be the point?
With some hesitation, she went to the Headmaster’s office.
“There’s no Headmaster and no students,” she told the guardian gargoyle. “You might as well let me in.” Apparently the statue agreed, for the door opened and the revolving staircase was revealed.
The office was just as she remembered it, save for some touches that Professor McGonagall had added during her tenure. The portraits were all sound asleep; no one had spoken to them in over a year. The Sorting Hat was on a shelf. When she entered, the familiar tear opened up and it spoke.
“Hello, Miss Granger,” it said. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“Hello,” said Hermione uncertainly. “How are you? You must have been lonely for the last year or so.”
“Not really; there’s lots of company inside my ‘head,’ as it were.” She didn’t know quite what to say to that.
“What will you do now?” She asked. In the silent office the question bounced back at her off the walls.
“Oh, I’ll just wait for the next Sorting,” said the Hat placidly.
Something snapped inside of her; the floodgates opened.
“You stupid Hat!” Hermione found herself shouting. “There won’t be a next Sorting! Never again! Never, never , never – ” She collapsed into the Headmaster’s chair and wept into her arms on the desk, wept yet again for all she had lost, all she had loved that had deserted her.
As usual, she felt a little better after she’d cried her eyes out. She pulled a handkerchief out of her sleeve and blew her nose, looking dully around the room. In the corner she saw a bookstand with a thick book and a quill sitting on it. Her curiosity getting the better of her even at a moment like this, she approached the corner, still sniffling a little, and looked at the cover:
Register of Students Accepted into HogwartsSchool
This was the book, then: the book in which all their names were written as they were born, the book that magically predicted their attendance at the school. She wondered idly whether a name was erased when the student finally began to attend the school, or when she left, or when she died. If the latter, then Hermione’s would be the only name there. She opened it with some misgivings.
There were names going back a thousand years – tens of thousands of names written in tiny quill-scratches. A name, a birth date, a date of matriculation, over and over for hundreds of pages. Hermione was fascinated in spite of herself. She paged through the heavy volume, stopping to look at famous names she recognized, then the names of her teachers, then the names of her friends.
Then she turned to the last page.:
Roger Lancelyn Barton
Born 17 July 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Mary Chanter Song
Born 1 August 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Linda Norfolk Howard
Born 15 August 1998
Enters 1 September 2009
Thomas Harrison George
Born 30 September 1998
Enters 1 September 2010
Melinda Leona Scribe
Born 19 October 1998
Enters 1 September 2010
Hermione’s eyes widened. There were fifteen more names that apparently were to “enter” in 2010. The last name said:
Edward Kenneth Mason
Born 18 September 1999
Enters 1 September 2011
“Born yesterday,” Hermione breathed.
She understood: magical abilities regularly appear as a rare but reliable mutation among Muggle-born children. Children like her. New magical children. The castle was registering them as students, although there was no one there to teach them. Hermione put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.
“I think you may need our help, Hermione,” came a sleepy voice from behind her.
She turned around and saw the portrait of Minerva McGonagall, looking somewhat bleary-eyed but smiling at her.
“Why?” she asked.
“We are pledged, you know, to serve the current Headmistress,” beamed McGonagall, stifling a yawn.
Hermione’s heart beat more loudly and she felt dizzy when she realized the import of her former teacher’s words. She stumbled back to the chair behind the desk and sat down with a thump.
Three students would be ready to enter in 2009. Seventeen would be ready in 2010. More would be ready in 2011. There was no one left to teach them.
No one but she.
It seemed impossible – Potions, Transfiguration, Arithmancy, all of it. When the school was founded, she thought sourly, it had four teachers. She was only one.
But she had nine years and 347 days in which to prepare.
  • So beautiful. I don't know where you get all of these great ideas, but I wish I could tap into your brainwaves sometimes. Heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time, just like Phoenix song.
  • Definitely a Phoenix moment. The loss is too large to absorb, really, so we focus on what has been gained instead. De Camp as in L. Sprague?
    • Yep, that's the one. I tend to name magical theory in my stories after authors who have used magic. Garrett's Principle of Magical Manifestation, LeGuin's Doctrine of Balance, etc.
      • This was really nice...things being reborn all the time. Everything seemed so final and yet hope at the end, and in a very powerful way. Glad you picked Hermione. She's the only one of the trio who could do something like that. Heh-heh..that line "Muggles had noticed the mass disappearances, but never connected them with magic"

        You've got the knack of hearing/reading something and then rolling it into a ball of a story.
        • Thanks, Rachel. I was thinking more along the lines that just as Harry was born to destroy Voldemort, and had talents and strengths that qualified him to do it, so Hermione was born to rebuild the wizarding world from its ashes, to be the great teacher who passed on knowledge to new generations. (Part of me thought that Harry should have reacted this way in Chapter One of Nightmare of Futures Past; such a great, important task!)

  • Ha! It's not a hobby - it's a talent! I know when someone is suited for something. Everyone has themes they gravitate towards and one of yours is this idea of annihilation and rebirth. You explained it so well with your moving story of visiting Poland - and I see you grappling with it again in this story.

    Can I just say again - poor Hermione. She really does endure a lot in your stories. I can see why you chose her - she is the perfect one to teach the Muggle-borns.

    So back to your story. I'm amazed at how much you could cover within the word limit - including a nifty (and plausible) spell that could both kill Voldy and the entire magical world.

    I love the Quill recording the names and the idea of an unquenchable magic and order in a very cruel world. The idea of eternal magic manifesting itself in this children is such a beautiful image. I love how practical Hermione is as well - that's the true power of this piece - the world begins again.

    • Annihilation and rebirth, is it? What a sign to have on my door. :P I think of it more as a need to remind myself that the world goes on after death -- that I'm part of something that will last longer than I will. That's seeming really important to me right now.

      Hermione endures a lot because she's the character (other than Percy) with whom I identify the most. It's easier for me to get into her head and to have a sense of how she'd react. (And what about "Poor Ginny" in Ct5K? What is she, chopped liver?) But it had to be Hermione in this story, as you say, because she's the only one who could have pulled it off. (Harry would have tried, I think, but I don't think he has the encyclopedic mind to handle all those subjects...) I had the sense that this was her destiny from the moment she started reading her textbooks for recreation the summer before her first year.

      I spent about a half-hour cutting out words. (Stupid word limits.)

      The business with the Quill and the book I think actually comes from a JKR interview, but I couldn't tell you which one. But yes, the world begins again -- and Hermione, far from being the author of a genocide, is (ready for this?) Mother Eve.
  • Wonderful story, packing a big punch. An awful lot to contemplate wrapped up in those 1,500 words. And as others have commented, Hermione is the *perfect* choice for the role of educating the next generation.

    This is the sort of story to which you could hang occasional vignettes depicting various scenes ... the first sorting? The major changes she'd make (would she abandon the House system? Or name them after her friends? Get rid of divination as a subject? :-) Hire surviving squibs as teacher aids? etc). What would her first indoctrination speech be like? Since one hundred percent of the magical population would be Muggle born, would the whole idea of blood supremacy be erased, or would something take its place? And I hope that Hermione finds satisfaction and even love along the way. This is the sort of story that's good because it makes one start wondering about all the possibilities. Good stuff!

    The statement that there were 'no wizards left in Britain', of course, begs the question 'what of the rest of the world?'. I know we're not supposed to ask, but some fanfic authors do make an attempt to integrate England with the rest of the magical global populace. But the story works much better with Hermione rebuilding from scratch, of course.
    • Thanks, Brad! Ideally the story should be about 2,000 words, really -- there's a lot more color, atmosphere and concrete detail I wanted to add. Ah, well.

      See, I really do love Hermione.

      I like all of your vignette questions; some of them crossed my mind too. I don't think the Houses are going to make much sense until she builds up a critical mass in the student population, which probably will take quite a while (might even be a generation). In the long run she can't altogether abandon them, though, just as the successors of the founders could not, because of the elemental differences between the four personality types (Dr. Jung would approve, as would Drs. Meyers & Briggs). I figure Binns will volunteer to teach History of Magic again (but will she accept his offer?), and she might convince Arabella Figg to teach Care of Magical Creatures. I hope Hermione finds love too, but, as they say, "that is another story."

      Leave it to a guy who can see the Southern Cross from his bedroom window to spot the major geographical plot flaw. Yes, you're right, if only Britain has been affected then help is surely available from over the Channel. I thought about that, but (1) as you say, the story packs much more punch if it's Hermione starting out on her own (and with only three students to start with, she hardly needs help at first), and (2) even with an exponential function it was hard to swallow that all of Britain would be engulfed in a spell that had only ever taken out three people at a time before -- if I claimed that the whole world was affected, even readers of fantasy ff wouldn't believe me. So I conveniently forgot about Europe (or any other continents, for that matter). (Because, face it, if she missed the magical world so badly, why not just learn French and move to a town in sight of Beauxbatons?) If I ever did write a multi-chapter fic out of this, what I imagine is that Hermione, working late at night in the Library about ten months after starting this project, suddenly sits bolt upright in her chair, smacks herself on the forehead, and says, "Idiot! Send an owl to Beauxbatons asking for some referrals!"
  • See, I really do love Hermione.


    I figure Binns will volunteer to teach History of Magic again (but will she accept his offer?), and she might convince Arabella Figg to teach Care of Magical Creatures.

    And maybe more ghosts, for other subjects. And she could use a pensieve to store her memories of the wizarding world, as it was, so kids with more aptitude than she in some subjects (like flying) would have some visual aids in addition to library books, and everyone could sample the feel of the wizarding world, as it was. And she could invite in some real muggles for Muggle Studies, and do it right. And ...

    I've been thinking about this off and on all day. It's a powerful little nugget. This must be what you creative author types feel all the time!
  • I wandered over here after finding your fics on PhoenixSong, and what a wonderful treat awaited me!

    This was brilliant. You seem to have some extremely creative approaches to the fandom that keep your stories from feeling cliche and repetitive.

    I particularly liked the grief, guilt and despair that Hermione was carrying in this fic, as you didn't make light of it, but you also didn't make her suicidal or absurdly emo. I'm sure she'll carry this grief and guilt all her life. In a way, rebuilding the wizarding world is probably the closest thing she can do to penance.

    One thing I love about this short story is that it's going to stay with me for awhile as I puzzle through all the possibilities. All those elves out there, all those empty estates - what's happening to them? What about the goblins? What about the money at Gringotts? What happens to the centaurs and merpeople and all the other magical creatures? Will society one day look back on Hermione as their Mother or their Hitler? Will she ever forgive herself? She seems doomed to a life of single-parenthood, in a way.

    The questions go on and on in my mind - all signs that you've done a fantastic job on this story! So far I've just seen this one and the two on phoenixsong. I look forward to digging around here looking for more.

    • Thank you, Gioia. These questions puzzle me as much as they puzzle you. It does seem rather like the first chapter in a longer fic, doesn't it? Brad said the same thing. It would be quite a story to tell, Hermione's creation of the new world.

      I won't allow myself to believe that she'll be remembered as a committer of genocide rather than the teacher who made the future possible. But for herself, she's both, isn't she? But it's all about responsibility -- she blames herself for what happens ("takes responsibility" for the destruction) and then sees that she can take on the burden of nurturing and teaching ("takes responsibility" for the future).

      • It does seem like the prologue to a novel-length story in many ways. But at the same time, it's a fantastic epilogue to the series. Does that make sense? Ultimately, although I won't deny that I'd love to see more from that universe, I think that this might work best as a stand-alone. It's just absolutely beautiful as it is. I like the idea of all the hope that's there.

        Actually, this sort of reminds me of Cuaron's new film, "Children of Men." I wasn't thrilled with the ending to that and would love to have been able to hold up your fic to Cuaron (after prostrating myself at his feet for a bit first in response to his genius) and say, "See! This is the type of ending you needed to have! It's left wide-open, but there's a clear direction and real hope present!"


  • Lovely, Ken.

    I'm curious: Did the front gates and the gargoyle (and maybe even the Fat Lady) let her in because they recognized her as the Headmistress as well?

    I just realized that Muggle-born, magical children under 10 would also have disappeared without any explanation. How very sad :(.
    • Thanks,Cookie.

      When I first wrote those lines, I thought that the gates thought she was a student, that the gargoyle agreed that there was no point keeping her out, and that the Fat Lady had just given up. But by the time I finished the last draft (cutting out a lot of words) I began to think that the entire castle (or at least the gargoyle) recognized her as you suggest. It certainly makes the whole destiny aspect of the story much deeper.

      I'm going to do a longer version for Phoenix Song after I submit the contest entry, and I might insert some lines to make this clear. (You know: the Fat Lady says something like, "Oh, of course you don't have to ask" and maybe the Gargoyle just lets her in before she can say anything.) I dunno; don't want to telegraph it too much, because I like the smack of the realization when Hermione is reading the book.

      Indeed, every magical child alive would have vanished, even the babies. *sniff*. I think the spell was cast on Midsummer's Day, 1998. Another thing that needs to go into the longer draft will be that date and some sort of confusion on Hermione's part as she reads the names in the book.
      • Actually, I wouldn't change those bits; I think you're right that it might give away too much (and anyway, I believe Dumbledore always had to use passwords, so being the Head in and of itself doesn't seem to automatically grant one total access). And the Fat Lady probably did give up. She's pretty sentient, after all.
  • Sigh. Ken, do you have to keep killing off all these characters I care about and leaving the ones that do survive with this terrible loneliness/ guilt to battle? Ugh. This was, of course, very devastating and poignant. Yet at the end, much like with Ct5K (but in a different way), we’re left with hope. I’m afraid I knew where you were going this time (which I can’t say I’ve known before), for as soon as it mentioned that all magical creatures had died, I knew that more would be born. Of course, the Phoenix theme helped me to know where it was headed. I am flummoxed about the children of Muggleborn families that disappeared. Hundreds of children simply gone all over Britain. How would their families ever know what happened unless Hermione made it her mission to find them all and let their families know. So much loss. Destroying all that they were trying to save in one fell swoop. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

    I agree with the sentiments of many that Hermione is, of course, the only choice to be left behind to fill this task. Not only do I think that Hermione of the trio would be the one most likely to be able to move on in her life despite the guilt, she is, of course, the educator. She has such a passion for the school as an institution (Hogwarts: A History) and the sharing of knowledge that who better than Hermione to rebuild the school? My other immediate thought is that she would seek help, not necessarily for Beauxbatons but from the American, Australian, New Zealand, etc. Ministries/ governments just for ease of language. This, I assumed, would become part of her nearly 10 year plan. Plus, she wouldn’t need all teachers year 1, just the basic classes, with Arithmancy, Runes, etc. to follow 2 years later. And it would be a good 20 years or so before they would even have to think about Muggle Studies again (even then, with Muggleborn parents or, likely, one Muggle parent and one magical parent), it would be much, much longer before the wizarding populace could if it ever would become so isolated again. I love the idea of wiping the slate clean in terms of pureblood prejudices, etc. And what a cautionary tale to her new students about what can happen when you try to circumvent the law and go Dark. Wow. Britain’s wizarding society according to Hermione’s ideals. Not a bad scenario for the future. Thought provoking yet gut wrenching once again.
    • Hi Christine! Thanks for reading this.

      It's true, I do keep killing off the characters and leaving the others grief stricken -- and then their grief turns into something productive. It seems to be a recurring theme of mine (and it's the reason Mary steered me to this Challenge). I think I'm working something out emotionally and it's expressing itself in my stories. Who knows, a year from now I may be writing pure fluff!

      The awful unintended consequences are huge -- too huge to wrap your mind around, and Hermione (in my opinion) was heading in the direction of clinical depression or PTSD. I'm not sure what snapped her out of it, and I'm not sure that it wouldn't have recurred if she really had just said goodbye to Hogwarts. But I do think that Dr. & Dr. Granger seriously considered getting her some help & medication at some point.

      Yes, like you, I like imagining all the possible futures from this story. That's kind of a nice feeling.
  • Well!

    I think everyone has said all the profound, insightful things I had planned to put in my comment. It's a fantastic idea for a story and you manage to convey so much in such a short space. And you leave your reader's minds spinning with ideas of how it's all going to work out.

    I wouldn't worry at all about the geographical issues or the other potential nitpicks people have mentioned. Your story is strong enough that it makes the reader believe in your version of the world.

    I did get a bit of a shiver when I saw Linda's name. Though I then realised that obviously the dating is all wrong for the later fic. Maybe a descendant?
    • Thanks, Ros. Actually I was just lazy and re-used a name from a different story. Truthfully Linda Norfolk-Howard (with a hyphen) couldn't be related to Linda Norfolk Howard (no hyphen) because in the former's universe Hermione lived to old age with Ron as her husband and had four sons. Sorry about the confusion.

      I'm working on a longer version of this story (I really resent that word-limit), inserting all the atmospheric detail I really wanted, which I'll then post on PS. In that version I'll probably leave out both Linda's and Ned's names, which are confusing to people who've read my other stories.
  • That was both sad and hopeful. Poor Hermione - all on her own but now with a purpose. I like the names you use. I'd picked out Norfolk Howard in the other story I'd read. Do I gather you like Roger Lancelyn Green? May I add you to my friends' list so I can gatch up with your writing.

    Cheers Bel

    PS You are obviously very observant if you managed to pick my name up. I don't always (hardly ever) put it on my posts. I can only think you've noticed it on St Margarets' LJ.
    • Thanks, Bel. Actually I looked at your LJ page to see how you signed yourself after you gave me that nice compliment over on Girlyswot's page. If you'd rather I go back to using your screen name, I will. (I generally prefer to use given names -- they seem more personal and friendly, and the screen names seem so artificial. I use the screen names when referring to people in the third person (as in the top of this entry), but when talking "face-to-face", as it were, I like to act as if I'm really talking to the person.

      I am a fan of Green, or at least of his King Arthur tales that I read when I was a boy. If you look really closely at the names of those other children you'll catch a fanfic author, a musician and a character from another of my stories (which you probably haven't read yet, but it'll be up on PS in a week or so...). As I said above, I may be deleting some of those names in the expanded version of the story.

      By all means "friend" me if you like; I'm flattered.

      • It's fine to use my name. I was just surprised because our paths hadn't crossed before. I picked the musician, he was one of the more famous ones, but not the fanfic author nor your character. I'll add you to my list.

        Cheers, Bel
  • Oh my. That packs a stunning punch.
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